Nineteen New Year’s Eves ago, Rosemary and I were at the hospital waiting for pathology reports after a surgery revealed she had cancer. When something like that happens it’s as if you climb into a hot air balloon and fly way above your life until it’s almost unrecognizable. Work, the color paint you want to use for the hallway, when you’re going to get the laundry done, it all gets microscopic.
Late one night I was flipping channels on the 8th floor in Mt. Sinai’s Oncology Ward and came upon a documentary about Buddhist, monastic life. A wizened, toothless nun was being interviewed about the approaching visit the Dali Lama was scheduled to make in a village near her. She was so thin her orange robes all but swallowed her and her shaved head made her look sullen. The nun mentioned in a perfunctory way that she was terminally ill but she’d decided to go see His Holiness any way to get her prayer beads blessed.
The documentarian followed the tiny nun as she took her place in the que to see His Holiness. When she arrived before him he threw his arms open and beamed at her as if she was his long lost college roommate. Her expression still didn’t change when she told him that she was going to die but his did. The Dali Lama brought his face closer to hers in a conspiratorial way and said, “So, it’s going to happen soon?!” then he rubbed her head with both his hands as if she was a little boy with a buzz cut, blessed her beads, grinned and whispered something in her ear. She walked away smiling, looking like if she could skip she would. I wanted to skip down to the nurses station myself. Watching this transaction flipped on a light switch in the dark room of my dread.
At the end of the Log Flume ride at Six Flags, after you’ve been riding up a conveyor belt at a one-hundred and twenty-degree angle for about two minutes, you get to a small, flat place before the drop. There’s always someone at the top sitting in something like a life guard chair who announces you are about to fall fifty-four feet. Then she encourages you to scream “Woo Hoo!” as you plunge over the edge.
Maybe you can, but I can’t say that I “have” faith like I have EZ Pass. Faith is something I almost always have to go to get from somebody else- holy or ordinary- who gives me communion bread, prays with me or reads the Gospel at the edge of my four story drop.
And faith changes nothing. It only reminds me there’s an alternative to closing my eyes and clenching my fists. Instead, I could throw my hands up in the air and yell “Woo Hoo!”